Women in prison are likely to have been victims of much more serious offences than those of which they have been convicted.
- Fifty-seven per cent of women in prison report having been victims of domestic violence. More than half (53%) report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child compared to 27% of men.
- Nearly a third (31%) of women in prison spent time in care as children compared to 24% of men. The majority of children in care are there due to abuse or neglect.
- Girls in care are ten times more likely to receive a caution or conviction than girls in the general population.
These statistics have been taken from an insightful report be Prison Reform Trust. Read it here.
A systemic issue
There are strong links between women’s experience of domestic and sexual abuse, coercive relationships and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Some women affected by domestic abuse may be coerced into offending in distinct ways, including trafficked women, foreign nationals and those from minority ethnic and religious groups, as well as women with learning disabilities and difficulties.
Their situation is often worsened by poverty, substance dependency or poor mental health.
On top of this, leaving an abusive relationship can be risky – the period when a woman is planning or making her exit is often the most dangerous for her and her children.
These factors mean women can become trapped in a vicious cycle of victimisation and criminal activity.
Although government strategies to tackle violence against women and girls recognise the vulnerability of many women offenders, there are few specific measures in place to identify and support women whose offending is linked to abusive and coercive relationships.
Legal defences often overlook the broader spectrum of sustained psychological, physical and financial abuse that lies behind some women’s offences, including where women use reactive violence.
In addition, criminalisation and particularly imprisonment compound the problems of women affected by violence and abuse.
Women’s imprisonment results in an estimated 17,240 children being separated from their mothers each year. Less than one in ten children are cared for by their father when a mother goes to prison and only 5% remain in their own home.
Considering these statistics together, we can see that the link between experiences of violence and abuse and criminal activity is a systemic issue.
By understanding this prominent chain of events, it is easier to focus on what society needs to do in order to break the cycle.
The need for specialist services
The response of criminal justice agencies to women offenders affected by domestic abuse is key to breaking the cycle of victimisation and offending.
Early intervention and joined-up working are key: problem solving and whole systems approaches are diverting women from the criminal justice system, reducing reoffending and improving outcomes.
This can be done by criminal justice agencies working with specialist women’s support services to build their knowledge and skills and share information.
In addition, by ending violence against women, we are working to drastically reduce women’s involvement in the criminal justice system.
Anawim’s free, confidential helpline is open on 0800 019 8818 to anyone who identifies as a woman to speak with a specialist female caseworker about violence and/or abuse, mental health, finances, accommodation, families and relationships, or anything else.
Alternatively, women may feel more comfortable using our live chat, which can be accessed via the orange button in the corner of this page.
While our own services are specialised for women, anyone can experience violence and abuse. Men can contact Respect’s helpline on 0808 8010327 to speak with someone about domestic abuse.
LGBT+ and anti-violence charity Galop provide a national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans+ domestic abuse helpline on 0800 999 5428. They can also provide support for those who have experienced hate crime and sexual violence.